The Stand-Alone Philosophy Minor


At some schools, there’s no philosophy major, just a philosophy minor. What should it be like?

[Barnett Newman, “Cathedra”]

The question comes from a professor at such a school looking for ideas. He notes that at schools with only a philosophy minor, there may be just one or two people teaching philosophy. There’s also the need to attract students majoring in other subjects at an institution in which philosophy does not have a large presence.

It would be particularly useful to hear from faculty at such schools, but suggestions from all about how to design a stand-alone philosophy minor are welcome.

Thanks.

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TT
TT
11 months ago

I’m at a school with a major, but few actual majors (rarely more than ten). Nonetheless, we offer a ton of general education courses and five to eight upper-level courses a semester. They all fill or nearly so. The key seems to be two things. First, we’re good teachers and enough students like our classes. These students at least guarantee the courses carry. But second, and more importantly, a bulk of those upper-division classes either have some interdisciplinary component and/or fulfill a requirement for non-philosophy majors. This makes them in demand. So, my advice: get your hooks into other departments. Obviously this is easier said than done, but it’s possible to convince other academics of what philosophy has to offer their students.Report

Jeffrey Koperski
Jeffrey Koperski
11 months ago

We’ve had to continually reduce the structure of our minor in order to attract students. There is a fixed number of courses, but what they take is largely up to them.Report

Rambling grad student
Rambling grad student
11 months ago

Perhaps it’s worth having a few different minor “tracks” that could attract different kinds of students. They could be like a mini major in the sense of requiring a few core philosophy courses and then a few courses for specialization. For example, a logic track could appeal to students in math and comp sci. An aesthetics and ethics track could appeal to students in the arts. A religion track…etc. This sort of thing I’ve seen done in other fields with success. It could be difficult with just a few faculty members, however to supply the needed breadth of courses. Perhaps this idea is actually better suited to departments with a full philosophy faculty.Report

Kevin DeLapp
Kevin DeLapp
11 months ago

To echo some of the excellent comments above, I think a good standalone minor is facilitated by cross-listing courses and by keeping things as flexible as possible. Regarding the cross-listing, it’s good to think about not only what else philosophy can count for, but what else can count for philosophy. For instance, allow faculty in other programs to designate a few seats in one of their non-philosophy courses to count for philosophy credit, so long as the courses are sufficiently theoretic or philosophy-adjacent, e.g. French or German intellectual history, certain political theory classes, maybe literary criticism, etc. Regarding flexibility, give students the opportunity to satisfy their requirements in multiple ways, e.g. some course focused on the history of philosophy, but without specifying which particular course. And eliminate Intro Philosophy as a prerequisite to other philosophy courses (I’d suggest even eliminating it as a requirement altogether). That way, students don’t get bottlenecked in Intro and you’re freed up to teach a wider diversity of courses, thereby providing more access points for students to get into the minor. Also, think about flexibility not only in terms of requirements, but also in terms of what you’re qualified to teach. If we’re not teaching at elite universities nor preparing our students for post-graduate philosophy studies, I think we should realize we can teach a wider array of philosophy topics than our specializations in grad school might make us think. I’m not saying we should irresponsibly teach subjects we really don’t know; but to support a minor with only one or two instructors, it’s probably necessary that curricular diversity in philosophy be expanded as widely as possible. In my experience, building up the minor in these ways lays a great foundation for an eventual boost to a major, if that’s the way you want to go. When I started at my job, I was the only full-time philosopher and we only had a minor (with only a single student). After a few years of expanding the minor in these ways, we were able to successfully make the pitch for the major (we are luck to have an administration that is very supportive of philosophy). I’m still the only full-timer and we only graduate about four majors a year, but there’s no way we could support even that if not for the cross-listing and the flexibility.Report

Joshua Mugg
Reply to  Kevin DeLapp
11 months ago

Because my institution’s Intro to Political Philosophy course is cross-listed with Intro to Political Theory (a Political Science course required for their major), I have learned that that course, in Political Science is usually taught as the ‘Plato to NATO’ course. They read Plato, Locke, Hobbes, etc. Actually, this last year we had a philosopher adjunct teach the course instead of a political scientist.

At my previous institution, I worked to get my Philosophy of Psychology course cross-listed with psych, which helped enrollments. Also, one of the psych faculty members asked to audit, and was extremely helpful to have in the class discussion. Building those connections really helps if you are (like I am) the only philosopher at the school

I think cross-listing is a good idea, but you should check to see what is going on in the class before signing on as a cross-listed class. I’ve reviewed some class in other disciplines or interdisciplinary courses (I’m Program Coordinator of Interdisciplinary Studies and a reviewer for our online courses) that claim that they contain substantive philosophical material, and it turns out to be pretty weak stuff. Report

Kevin DeLapp
Kevin DeLapp
Reply to  Joshua Mugg
11 months ago

Totally agree, Joshua, I’d only recommend allowing a non-philosophy course to count for philosophy credit if you know the content and instructor pretty well. (I’m at such a small institution that we all know one another and one another’s courses rather closely.) And LOL “Plato to NATO”!Report

Joshua Mugg
11 months ago

I was the sole philosopher at a school like this (Indiana University Kokomo) and am now the sole philosopher at another such school (Park University). My view is that the minor should require some exposure to practical philosophy and theoretical philosophy, with roughly half of the courses at the upper-level if it is possible to get such courses to run. So, one might require that the student take a class on ethics, political philosophy, or philosophy of law, and a course in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, mind, or religion. I wish we could require some history, but I just don’t have the enrollments to get it. At both schools I’ve taught at, I’ve had to work hard to get enough students in my upper-level courses. Right now I am teaching an independent study instead of an upper-level course because I do not have 10 students who are all interested in taking the same upper-level course. Report

Henning Ratjen
Henning Ratjen
11 months ago

As the student who take the courses won’t major in philosophy i think its important for them to get a.basic idea about philosophy. I would like to see the focus on critical thinking, rather than more abstract theories, that need broader knowledge.of philosophy beforehand. Also if you can get the courses interdisciplinary that would be great, so that students can connect philosophy to their life and other areas they study. This might also help in getting them to choose the course.
Another point is a focus on ethics and practical philosophy, to get the students engaged in questioning unethical practices in their given field. Report

Julian Weitzenfeld
Julian Weitzenfeld
11 months ago

As someone who left the profession four decades ago or so, I’d like to observe that all of the comments above are concerned with marketing. There are none about what kind of competence a declared “minor” is supposed to represent, if any. And if your only concern is getting the numbers up, why have any constraints at all? is there some purpose to having minors? What, and then what kinds of considerations serve those purposes?Report

J
J
11 months ago

At my previous school in Europe, I designed a minor because all students were required to get a BA in political science but many of them were interested in pursuing MAs in other fields. Europe doesn’t generally have minors, so I was doing a lot of making things up and researching minors in the US.

There were already required three required courses in the history of Western political philosophy and an introduction to philosophy requirement. I added a general requirement in critical thinking. For the minors, I required them to take at least one course focused on a specific figure or text and a second focused on a topic, and they had to write a thesis on a topic I was OK with calling philosophical. I wanted to add another required course in non-Western philosophy, but I had to do everything myself so that became impossible.

If I’d had my druthers, the minor would thus have constituted of:

General Requirements
1) Introduction to Philosophy (1x)
2) Critical Thinking (1x)
3) History of Political Philosophy (3x)

Minor Requirements
1) Figure- or Text- Focused Course (1x)
2) Topic-Focused Course (1x)
3) Non-Western Philosophy (1x)
4) ThesisReport

Martin Cooke
11 months ago

Why not base a short course around a single book that makes philosophy come to life, such as Roger Scruton’s “Philosophy: Principles and Problems”? There is such a book for every teacher’s personal preferences, I am sure.Report

Chronoc
Chronoc
10 months ago

If the aim is to increase the number of students in the program, here’s a suggestion. I am presuming that your general minor is 18 credits. We’ve found that many (not all) of our students see an easy connection between Philosophy and Law and you can emphasize this in your program without creating a separate minor. For instance, instead of making a separate Philosophy and Law track, you can just make a “Pre-Law Emphasis” page which says “these are some recommended courses in philosophy for Law School students to take” that lists logic, ethics, etc. This way you don’t need to create a separate program for these students but can call attention to how Philosophy can be helpful for law school (this page should include a nice description of the uses and scores related to Philosophy and law school with links). Secondly, I would then contact the chairs and/or advisors in other programs (I mean several chairs, including the sciences) with SAT and LSAT scores and talk about the program. The trick is not only to convince students of the benefits, but we’ve found that many chairs and advisors who learn about the benefits of philosophy will then advise their students to “try taking a philosophy course” or to “check our their pre-law emphasis.” Don’t underestimate the role played by faculty in advising students to look at your courses. While the Pre-law approach isn’t the only way, we have found that students tend to respond to this and we haven’t had to change our traditional minor really.Report

Martin Lenz
10 months ago

While Groningen has an independent philosophy faculty and a major, it also offers a minor programme, which has growing enrolments (230 students this year). Here is an overview: https://www.rug.nl/filosofie/education/minor/?lang=enReport

Grad Student
Grad Student
10 months ago

I apologize for not meeting the faculty requirement, but the beginning of my undergrad was at a small religious university and the sole philosophy professor (who has been there for decades) has done a good job building up a minor that allows students to learn about philosophy and attract students from other majors. As I mentioned, there is only one full-time ‘Professor of Philosophy,’ however, not all of the teaching falls upon him. There are several other professors in different departments (Religion, Humanities, History, PoliSci, and English) that help out with the teaching load by offering courses on a rotating basis in the areas they are competent in and that fulfill degree requirements in their respective departments. First example, a professor who did his PhD in religion and social ethics would teach intro to ethics, phil of religion, and intro to logic on a rotating basis. Second example, a professor who did his PhD in the history and philosophy of science would teach intro to modern phil and phil of science on an every-other-semester schedule. Final example, a prof who did his PhD in political theory would teach an ancient or modern political theory course depending on the year. (You get the idea) Finally, students could petition to do a semester long independent reading if they had a particular work they wanted to dive into that was either not covered, or not covered in depth in the classes offered (e.g. three of us spent a semester going through ‘After Virtue’). In my opinion, this allowed students to pursue a more robust minor and to balance it with their major. Several of us who were taking every class the minor offered decided to transfer to a nearby state university because we realized we were not making progress on our declared major and wanted to obtain a BA in philosophy. I know of two students who stayed and went on to pursue philosophy at the graduate level, even though they only minored in it during undergrad. But I guess that is beside the point, I just wanted to post an example of a philosophy minor that despite obvious institutional limitations, tries to do what it can, where it can.Report